ST. LOUIS — First, it was a trade. Then, it was a selection of the NHL expansion franchise in Las Vegas. But nothing could keep him away from St. Louis.
Although they quit on David Perron, he just could never quit them. Or us.
Perron signed on for a third stint with the team that drafted him 26th overall in the 2007 NHL Draft on July 1, 2018. His re-arrival was the beginning of a huge summer for the Blues, who also added Tyler Bozak, Pat Maroon and future Conn Smythe Trophy winner Ryan O’Reilly before the next season began.
Met with mixed reviews from fans, Perron’s return was never in question in the forward’s camp.
“St. Louis is a great city,” he told Blues reporter Andy Strickland after putting ink to paper. “My heart has always been in St. Louis my whole career, even when I was with other teams. I’m extremely excited. It’s a great city to play in.”
From there, you’ve heard the story about the team. From last to first, Stanley Cup and St. Louis celebrates for … well, seven months now.
The fabled story of Perron only continues beyond becoming a league champion. After reaching 23 goals in 2018-19, which was his second-best goal total, Perron found a way to build on his success this season. Perron, now 31, leads the Blues with 21 goals and 49 points at the All-Star break, serving as the team’s main dish offensively after superstar Vladimir Tarasenko was put on the shelf in late October.
The Quebec native, who also leads the NHL with an astounding eight game-winning goals, was commended for his efforts with his first trip to the NHL All-Star Game. Perron was put on the ballet as the Last Men In candidate, where fans voted in the last roster spot for all four squads. Perron joined teammates Jordan Binnington, Alex Pietrangelo and O’Reilly in the All-Star festivities after making fans aware he desperately wanted to play in the game, despite that not being the norm amongst NHL players nowadays.
Of course, joining the NHL’s elite with the event taking place in St. Louis was an added perk for the left-winger.
“People wonder why I came back a second time and a third time to St Louis,” Perron said on his Twitter account after being selected, “it’s for my teammates and the special fans that had my back and they always do! Thanks for showing people around the league even with a smaller market like here you got it done! Thank you!”
Perron participated in the NHL’s newest event, Shooting Stars, which included skaters shedding their gear and going 30 feet above the ice surface to fire pucks into multi-point nets. Perron recorded 14 points, which tied him for fifth with three players.
The next night, Perron scored for the Central Division squad on a sly shot that found its way through Jakob Markstrom’s pads. As you would expect with Perron’s work ethic, this came after a nice play at the blue line to skate by Oilers superstar Leon Draisaitl.
There’s plenty left in Perron’s story, but what got him to this pinnacle moment is more than a decade of seeking a fit and gelling with the right teammates.
Where It All Began
When Perron was drafted with the Blues’ second overall pick in the first round of the 2007 draft, many analysts believed it was somewhat of a reach for a player who may not pan out in the NHL. After all, he had just one season under his belt in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League and wasn’t even ranked by the International Scouting Services in October 2006. He shot up the rankings in just a season, though, ranking 15th among prospects by season’s end.
His numbers were certainly impressive, scoring 39 goals and 83 points in 70 games for Lewiston to lead the club in both categories, but Perron’s 6-foot, 180-pound frame meant he needed to bulk up for the NHL game. His speed, puck presence, and tenacity were all excellent qualities, but his body checking was listed as ineffective and his endurance was called into question by scouts and coaches.
Perron was determined to prove the Blues made the correct decision.
"I want to make the team, for sure,” he said after being drafted. “I'm not looking to come here in September for training camp just to make an impression, just to have the experience. I want to make the team right away."
His confidence paid off. Impressing Blues head coach Andy Murray in training camp, Perron made the Blues’ opening-night roster as a 19-year-old, joining a hopeful core that included veterans Paul Kariya, Keith Tkachuk and Doug Weight, as well as eventual 40-goal scorer Brad Boyes.
Although the Blues finished fifth in the Central Division and missed the playoffs by 12 points, Perron impressed his critics by appearing in 62 games and amassing 27 points, tying for eighth on the Blues’ roster.
His stickhandling abilities and quick shot instantly made him a face of the future for the Blues’ offense. It was clear he and David Backes, skating in his second NHL season, were mainstays for the St. Louis team for years to come.
As a second-year man in 2008-09, Perron was joined by two other young offensive prospects: Patrik Berglund and T.J. Oshie. Together, they formed the Kid Line, which received some play with coach Murray as an energy line. After missing the playoffs for three consecutive seasons, the future of the organization finally seemed to take shape.
Perron’s rise to where he is now didn’t come without its issues.
Stories broke of Perron not cashing his checks in his first season. Not mastering the English language quite yet, Perron didn’t even have a bank account set up and was living off the cash he had saved from training camp. Coach Murray helped Perron set up a bank account and credit card.
His nutrition wasn’t the best. He received some help there from teammates and coaches, as well.
As he learned the American lifestyle and how to be on his own, he still faced some on-ice struggles.
Famously, Perron showed up to his first training camp with white skates, instantly drawing the ire of Murray and teammates. That was corrected.
Often, Perron found himself in the press box during games in his rookie season, as he was passed up for playing minutes by Backes, newcomer Andy McDonald, and right-winger Lee Stempniak.
However, as Perron slowly made the transition to the league and found himself earning playing time in key moments, his game just seemed to get better and better.
His second NHL season saw his numbers climb to 50 points while posting a plus-13, which was third on the roster. His third season resulted in a dip in points, 47, but he reached the 20-goal plateau for the first time in his career.
Coaches, GMs, and analysts took notice of Perron’s progression. Eyes were on Perron to be a breakout star in his fourth season, but a devastating hit on Nov. 4, 2010, changed everything.
The Future is in Question
As the Blues’ power-play time dwindled down, Perron received a pass at the red line for a quick break-in. Unfortunately, as he passed the San Jose Sharks’ penalty box, center Joe Thornton stepped out and timed a hit that made principal contact with Perron’s head, sending him to the ice and eventually to the locker room. Although Perron returned to the game and scored, that would be his final contest of the season.
After the 2010-11 season ended, everyone was asking the same question: Would we ever see Perron on the ice again?
Reports surfaced that dizziness and constant headaches ravaged Perron. He couldn’t watch television and felt “off” while driving his car around town.
"It's tough to explain, mentally tough,” he told Allan Maki of The Globe and Mail in October 2011. “I don't know where to start. Unless you have it, it's hard to understand."
The day finally came, though. After skating with a red jersey in practice and inching his way back into regular workouts, Perron returned to the lineup on Dec. 3, 2011 — 10 months and 97 games since he last played.
And wouldn’t you know it: he scored in just his second shift on the ice.
Perron finished the season with 21 goals and 21 assists in 57 games played, improving on his career-best in goals with far fewer games played and showing little signs of a long-lasting effect from the injury.
Perron: The Journeyman
At this point, the Blues had been two coaches removed from Murray. Davis Payne had come and gone before defensive mastermind Ken Hitchcock took over behind the bench. The 2012-13 lockout struck at this time, though, and all teams competed in a shortened 48-game season. Perron’s numbers dwindled significantly, as he scored just 10 goals and 25 points in 48 games, also adding just two assists in six playoff games.
It wasn’t just the lack of scoring that became bothersome in Perron’s game; he made a name for himself across the league as being too aggressive in the offensive zone, resulting in numerous penalties when the Blues were on the attack. Already amassing two 50-plus penalty-minute totals in previous seasons, Perron accumulated 44 penalty minutes in the 48-game season, often forcing Hitchcock to sit Perron for long stretches or to designate him to fourth-line duty.
It was clear that Perron’s game did not fit Hitchcock’s system. Although Perron had become a favorite amongst fans and teammates, general manager Doug Armstrong began shopping him in the summer of 2013. He found a taker with the Edmonton Oilers, who sent former first-round pick Magnus Paajarvi and a future draft pick to St. Louis in exchange for Perron.
A franchise that hadn’t reached the postseason in seven seasons, Edmonton had the looks of a well-oiled machine with the addition of Perron. Playing alongside the likes of top-end draft picks Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle, and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Perron reached career highs in goals (28) and points (57) in his first season with the Oilers, despite the franchise missing the playoffs yet again.
The 2014-15 season began with Perron notching just five goals in his first 38 games, which landed him on the trading block yet again. He was moved to Pittsburgh midseason and he scored 12 goals and 10 points in 43 games with the Penguins.
As Perron continued to slide up and down the lineup, he again struggled to open the 2015-16 campaign and tallied just four goals in the first 43 games of the season. He wound up on a hopeful Anaheim Ducks roster, playing mostly with star center Ryan Getzlaf, adding eight goals and 20 points in 28 games.
Perron had become a bit of a journeyman at this point and it suggested that maybe his best days were behind him. The scoring touch he displayed early in his career seemingly evaporated. It just so happened his contract he originally signed with the Blues expired after his brief stint in Anaheim, and it was uncertain where Perron would wind up next.
Welcome Back to St. Louis
The summer after the Blues reached the Western Conference Final for the first time since 2001, Perron struck a two-year deal with the team that drafted him.
"When I first got the call, I was extremely excited, but you don't know what the offers are going to be," Perron said in an interview with NHL.com at the time. "I had good offers from different teams, but you narrow it down to the teams close to winning and I think the Blues are right there, so of course they were on my list of where I wanted to go.”
This time, Perron joined the Blues as a husband and father. His maturity was apparent to the Blues organization, who was slightly revamping its look to be a more speedy, skilled team.
This time, Perron was looked at as a depth forward, likely providing offense to the second or third line. With the top-six forward unit including the likes of Robby Fabbri, Jori Lehtera, Jaden Schwartz, Paul Stastny, Alexander Steen and Tarasenko, Perron would slot in where a line needed some sandpaper and a slight scoring touch.
Perron potted 18 goals and 46 points that season, his best output since his first season in Edmonton. He filled his role, and then some, and was doing it at a reasonable price. His $3.75 million cap hit made him an appealing option to opposing teams looking to add skill to their middle two lines.
This came at a time when the NHL was expanding to 31 teams. Las Vegas was set to enter the league in 2017-18, meaning an expansion draft would take place. Perron was left unprotected by the Blues, and the Vegas Golden Knights added him to their rag-tag group of players.
"We knew we were going to lose a player that we didn't want to lose," GM Armstrong said shortly after. "That's the nature of the expansion draft and the price for having an additional team in the NHL.”
This was the fifth time in four years that Perron changed teams.
It wasn’t all sour grapes, though. The Golden Knights broke nearly every single-season record for an expansion team, winning the Pacific Division title en route to a ridiculous 51-24-7 record for 109 points.
Perron had anointed himself a top player on the roster, accumulating career highs in assists (50) and points (66). His top-end skill was on full display all season, as he finally seemed to reach the high ceiling the Blues saw in him so many years ago.
His offensive prowess meant he was due for a raise, though, as he had shed the persona of a depth player and donned the fabric of a top-two left-winger.
Despite his regular-season success, Perron again struggled in the postseason, tabulating just one goal and nine points during Vegas’ miraculous run to the Stanley Cup Final. His skill was tremendous in getting Vegas to the playoffs, though, and that drew interest from a team who had just missed out on the playoffs for the first time in six years.
Just Can’t Quit the Blues
Everything Perron wanted in a new deal came that summer. He signed his fifth contract with the Blues, the only team he had ever signed an NHL contract with, returning to the club for the third time in his career. The four-year deal provided him years of stability, while the $16 million price tag gave him a bump in salary.
Perron was instrumental in the Blues’ regular-season turnaround, recording a 13-game point streak (6 goals, 10 assists) from Dec. 22-Jan. 17, before missing some time with injury. He kept his personal streak alive when he returned, scoring at least a point in his first four games (3 goals, 3 assists) back in the lineup.
His biggest accomplishments to date came in the Blues’ 2019 Stanley Cup run, though, when he added seven goals and 16 points in 26 games to help St. Louis capture its first league championship. None were bigger than his goal 1:32 into Game 6 of the Western Conference Final, putting the Blues up early and hammering the first nail into the coffin for San Jose. The Blues went on to win the game, 5-1, with Perron adding an assist on Bozak’s third-period goal to pile dirt on top of the Sharks’ season.
A champion after 12 NHL seasons, Perron is setting himself up nicely for another career year, establishing himself as the go-to sniper for the Blues. Heading into the final 33 games of the 2019-20 season, Perron is on pace for 35 goals and 82 points.
Accomplishing those feats in a Blues sweater would just be the icing on the cake for the left-winger.
“There are different things (that brought me back to St. Louis),” he told The Athletic earlier this month. “I think for me being familiar with the city, with the guys … with (general manager) Doug Armstrong’s mentality, with (owner) Tom Stillman, it was huge knowing that they wanted to put a competitive team out there every year and have a chance to win. I knew that there wouldn’t be a more special place to win, and now that we’ve done it, I’m really happy that I made those decisions. I definitely had other opportunities and some with more money, honestly, but the fit was a big part.”
Another expansion draft looms in 2021 with a new Seattle franchise set to begin play in 2021-22, but Perron’s tenacious spirit, quick shot release and bag of knuckles in the corners will have GM Armstrong think twice about leaving him unprotected again. After all, St. Louis’ adopted son has become a key piece to the Blues’ offense.
Just like we knew he would be so long ago.
Jeff can be heard weekly on Lets Go Blues Radio, the original St. Louis Blues podcast. You can find the show on Apple or Google Podcasts, Spotify or letsgoblues.com!